How It All Got Started
I started the Backyard Beans and Grains Project (BBGP) in 2008 as a response to the challenge of incorporating locally-grown staple foods into the diet. Whatcom County (and Western Washington in general) produces a large variety of vegetables, berries, dairy products, and to a lesser degree, fruits, fish and meat. The missing element, especially for vegetarians, those on low income, or those with dairy allergies, is a variety of storable, high-quality vegetable protein sources, i.e. dry legumes and grains. When I started this project I was just an ambitious year-round urban gardener and food preserver looking for a worthy project. Over a decade later I am happily running a full-time farm and seed business. Many can attest to the power of heirloom beans to capture the imagination; for me, it was truly a life- and career-changing relationship.
The main activity of the Backyard Beans and Grains Project has been to research varieties of dry legumes, grains, and seed crops that may grow well in our bioregion and run trials to determine their suitability for the small-scale grower. The trials are conducted on Certified-Organic farmland near Bellingham, Washington. All research is aimed at the small-scale, low-tech grower (including commercial farms that rely primarily on hand labor for weeding and harvest), with a minimal use of fossil fuels and specialized equipment. Because our seed varieties are all screened for early maturity and good productivity, our work is highly informative for the larger-scale (mechanical weeding and harvest) grower as well.
Our work is based on the premise that crop diversification is vital for the long-term sustainability of any local food system, and that staple foods such as beans and grains are a key component of a sustainable foodshed here in Whatcom County and across the Pacific Northwest. We believe it is important to re-gain local knowledge that has been lost over the past century and to discover additional crops and varieties that are well-suited to our climate.
Our research is conducted for the benefit of all regional farmers and gardeners who wish to grow dry beans and grains. We record detailed information about varieties, plant spacing, dates, labor inputs, yields, harvesting and threshing techniques, seed-saving, and storage.
Our self-published Growers Guides contain information on growing, harvesting, and processing dry legumes and grains. The Guides are tailored specifically for Pacific Northwest growers but contain plenty of useful information for growers in any climate.